Costume designers plan and create clothing and accessories for all characters
in a film or theater production. They study the play or movie script and work
closely with directors to design costumes that evoke a certain time, place
They may design for stage, film, television, dance or opera productions.
A costume designer's job starts with the production material. They learn
the production's theme, location, dialog and characters, then meet with the
director to learn his or her interpretation of the production.
Designers then create a rough costume plot, research the era that is being
depicted, plan a preliminary color scheme and collect fabric swatches. Final
color sketches are presented to the director and, if approved, the designer
solicits bids from contractors such as sewers and drapers.
Designers work closely with drapers and sewers in costume shops. They also
work with hairstylists and make-up artists. They supervise sittings and attend
all dress rehearsals to make final adjustments and repairs.
Costume designers put in long hours of painstaking, detailed work while
they're employed. However, the work can be erratic -- a busy period followed
by weeks with no work.
Independent costume designer Rae Robison, for example, began work on a
new Hollywood film project in 1999. After production meetings, Robison spent
a month doing drawings and design work. The next two months were devoted to
shopping and arranging everything in time for the film to begin shooting.
Once filming starts, Robison generally spends another six weeks on the set.
"It pays very well during the time you're working," says Robison.
But when the work's over, costume designers often have to do some footwork
to get the next gig.
Costume designers with experience will have little trouble finding work
in the entertainment industries, particularly in the Los Angeles area, where
television, film and stage provide plenty of projects.
"The market is very strong, and in L.A. there's a built-in job market.
There's enough work to go around. I don't think the entertainment industry
is ever going to go away," Robison says.
However, while Hollywood provides lots of employment for highly experienced
costume designers, newcomers may have to work as interns, or work for deferred
or no pay to get experience.
Where's the glamour in that? Fact is, there isn't much.
"The work isn't for the weak-hearted," says Robert Doyle, a veteran costume
designer and teacher. "A dedicated desire for the work must be uppermost,
since the myth that this career is glamorous is nonsense. Although there is
glamour in the theater and film industry, professionalism is 98 percent perspiration
and two percent inspiration."
In some cases, costume designers and the costume crew don't make costumes
at all. They may assist during productions, helping people change costumes
and fixing any problems.
Costume designers earn daily rates for an eight-hour day or weekly rates
for an unlimited number of hours. Designers sometimes earn royalties on their
In New York City, designers must be members of the United Scenic Artists
Union, which sets minimum fees, requires producers to pay into pension and
welfare funds, protects the designers' rights, establishes rules for billing
and offers group health and life insurance.
"Pursue your dreams with integrity and sincerity," Doyle says. "This isn't
a career for frauds. You ultimately must produce the goods."